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Archive for the category “Nature”

best five minutes of a perfect day

Pt.Reyes4It’s the middle of April, and I have been hiking a six-mile loop of trails at Bear Valley Trailhead in Point Reyes National Seashore: Bear Valley trail to Pine trail to Sky trail, and back on Bear Valley.

The best five minutes are in the early afternoon, when I’m about half-way and coming out of the trees and into the open.

The ground right here is hard and full of rocks and small stones instead of soft with the pine needles I’ve been walking on. The sun overhead is bright and glaring; it’s hot and I’m sweating hard.

In the mid-distance is Mount Wittenberg, but about an eighth of a mile ahead, the trail smooths out and winds to the left around a low hill completely covered in golden poppies waving and shimmering in the light breeze. It’s an amazing sight you don’t get to see unless you’ve worked for it, since it’s a considerable climb no matter which way you come up.

I’ve been anticipating this and I never, ever tire of it. I push ahead until the poppy-covered hill is on my right and a gradual, rolling, dark green, and lush drop-off on the left exposes specks of tents and tables from Sky Camp far below.

Beyond that is the blue-green water of Drake’s Bay lapping at the shore, sunlight rippling the surface. I’m so thirsty I stop and take a long drink of water from the plastic bottle in my backpack. The water’s warm but I gulp it, marveling at how much better water tastes when I’m hiking than at any other time.

I stand still, gazing at the distant water and letting the sweat evaporate from my skin. I smell the dust of the trail and the pine trees. I turn to look at the poppies again, drinking in the sight as a couple of orange and yellow butterflies flit in and out among them.

That’s paradise to me.

What are the best five minutes of your perfect day?

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celebrating the senses: vision

eyeThe human brain processes around 11,000,000 bits of information at a time, of which we are only consciously aware of about 40. The vast majority of those 11,000,000 bits of information are related to vision. As John Medina says in Brain Rules:

Visual processing doesn’t just assist in the perception of our world. It dominates the perception of our world.

The things that are in our visual field, whether we’re aware of them or not, have an effect on us. I really became aware of that two years ago when I went through my living space from top to bottom to get rid of all the things I was no longer using. In the course of decluttering, I decided to make my space as cheerful and visually appealing (to me) as possible.

sunNow I have plenty of colorful things I enjoy looking at, including the sunflakes in my windows, the bright things in my office, and the two dozen pieces of talavera pottery in various locations. Most of the talavera critters are on the walls: frogs, geckos, salamanders, birds, and turtles. There’s a roadrunner (the New Mexico state bird) looking out the window of my office, a sun over the stove in the kitchen, a mushroom on top of a bookshelf, and several flower pots full of ivy.

My favorite color is red, so that’s the accent color in my kitchen. The pottery on the mantel over the fireplace belonged to my partner, and looking at it frequently reminds me of him, as does looking at the two stunning 4’x4’ paintings he created, one in the office and one in the living room. Of course, what I enjoy looking at the most in my apartment is my cat, Naima.

sandia-sunset

Photo Source: TripAdvisor.com

Then there’s the great outdoors, which is what attracted me to the southwest. It’s hard to describe the nature of the light here, but it’s unlike the light in either Michigan or California. The sunsets can be spectacular. The clouds are different, too, or so it seems. And the Sandia mountains that always let you know which direction is east aren’t just a great place for hiking, they’re amazing and beautiful, especially when the setting sun turns them watermelon-colored. The picture above does not lie!

cranesfallI love to look at all the trees and the wildflowers in this area, along with the roadrunners and occasional coyote. The cottonwood trees along the Rio Grande bosque turn into a magnificent golden canopy in the fall. And the migration of sandhill cranes to the Bosque del Apache in November is another sight to behold.

The world around me is full of both humdrum and wonder, all of it worth celebrating. I’m truly grateful for having the opportunity to see and appreciate it.

This post is the last of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

Thanks for sharing this brief journey with me.

celebrating favorite places

PtReyes1As much as I love New Mexico, my favorite place is not here but in California, where I lived for 30 years. It’s Pt. Reyes National Seashore, 70,000 absolutely gorgeous acres of park land and nature preserve located in Marin County. I’ve said for decades that if anyone were to gift me with a small cottage in Bear Valley and transport me into it, I would happily remain there for the rest of my days.

PtReyes2Although I had easy access to many hiking areas including Mt. Tamalpais, Muir Woods, and the Marin Municipal Water District, Bear Valley trailhead in Pt. Reyes was my favorite. Just as Pino Trail at Elena Gallegos Park in Albuquerque is my current go-to trail, my go-to trail in Pt. Reyes was a loop that included Bear Valley trail to Old Pine to Sky to Mount Wittenberg and back to Bear Valley.

Pt.Reyes4There’s an area along Sky trail that steadily inclines as you get closer to Mount Wittenberg. The path is gravelly and out in the open. The best time to hike here is in the spring, because just at the point when the thought might cross your mind that this is not so much fun, you turn a corner and are faced with a brilliant display of bright orange poppies against the side of a hill that is guaranteed to stop you in your tracks to celebrate the moment and the fact that you’re alive.

PtReyes3I haven’t been back to Pt. Reyes in almost six years, but the place always feels like home to me. I’ve hiked there alone, with groups, with various friends, and most often with my partner, who died 10 years ago. He was much more of an outdoor person than I was when I met him shortly after I moved to California from the flat land of eastern Michigan. I can still remember purchasing my first pair of hiking boots. They cost about $35, which seemed like a lot of money in 1975, but I didn’t have to replace those boots until I moved to New Mexico.

Of course I miss Pt. Reyes and plan to visit it again, but I spent so much time there and have so many memories of my experiences in it that it doesn’t really matter if I ever get back. There’s a part of Pt. Reyes that’s inside me now and always will be.

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating hiking

Pino TrailHiking is absolutely one of my favorite things to do, so even though the weather has not been conducive to hitting the trails lately–nor has my schedule–a series on celebration has to include it. Here are accounts of four hikes on (mostly) my favorite trails in the area.

Pino Trail

Pino Trail is my go-to hiking trail for two reasons. (1) It’s just over a five-minute drive from where I live. (2) The variety and the views never get old. These photos were taken on a short solo hike on a late afternoon in the summer, with the temperature around 94 degrees in the unshaded stretches. I went out by myself to see how the ribs I’d bruised the previous week handled my day pack and the heavy breathing from a little extra exertion.

This trail is very popular, but during my two hours out there I encountered fewer than half a dozen other people; apparently the heat kept everyone else away. My bruised ribs proved not to be an issue. In fact they felt better after the hike than they did before.

pino1

pino2

pino3

While I love all the gorgeous vistas from this trail, the shot directly above is my favorite.

 Cienega (“Wet Meadow”) Trail

This hike was definitely not a hit. On the way up, my hiking partner and I heard the growl of either a black bear or a mountain lion, and on the way down I took a minor spill on the uneven, rock-strewn path.

On the plus side, we gained 1,750 feet in a little over two miles, moving under continuously blue skies with a scattering of bright white clouds, in very comfortable conditions. The view from the top was amazing. A stone outcropping provided convenient level seating for a snack break (watermelon and almonds) and the opportunity for us to take it all in–along with a few photos, of course.

cienega1

The less said about the trek down, the better. Of the wildflowers in bloom, sunflowers dominated. There were also more butterflies flitting around than I’ve ever seen anyplace outside the Butterfly Pavilion at the Botanic Garden.

sunflower

geranium

Tree Spring Trail

Tree Spring Trail, one of the most enjoyable trails in the area, is located on the eastern side of the Sandias, which makes it a cooler and more comfortable hike in the summer. My hiking companion and I started from Tree Springs trailhead off Crest Highway, hiked up to the crossroads where Tree Spring Trail meets 10K and Crest trails, and then meandered along 10K for a while.

tree spring1This hike was a winner, even though the trails are popular for mountain bikers, and we had to do a lot of scrambling to get out of the way. I couldn’t believe the profusion and variety of wildflowers.

wallflower

mariposa lily

Piedra Lisa (“Smooth Rock”) Trail to Rincon Spur

The weather gods provided an absolutely perfect day for hiking this trail, most of which is in the open. The temperature ranged from low 70s to mid-80s, the sun shone brightly, and there was nary a sign of rain.

Piedra Lisa Trail is on the same side of the mountains as Pino Trail, so the terrain is similar, but being north of Pino it offers much closer views of the landmark shield, prow, and needle. My favorite, however, was this sphinx-like “rock face.”

piedra lisa1There were lots of gnarled dead trees along the trail. At one point I turned around to see this row running down the side of a hill.

piedra lisa2

The number of wildflowers was surprising. I managed to get a few halfway decent shots and to identify a couple more species–both purple.

aster

verbena

The mountains and sky seem much closer from the perspective of the trail. They’re a good reminder to look up from time to time, to check out the distant view. Sometimes you need the wide-angle lens.

piedra lisa3

A Gal and Her Camera:

piedra lisa JC

Photo courtesy of Lee (Thanks!)

 Armijo-Faulty-Cienega Loop

After parking in the small lot before the Cienega Canyon trailhead, my companion and I backtracked up the asphalt, getting the hardest part of the hike over with right away. We picked up Cienega Horse Bypass Trail, which eventually merged with Armijo Trail, which offered some dramatic views. Armijo Trail was also where we encountered this little guy (or gal?):

collared lizard

Armijo Trail ends at Faulty Trail, which runs 8.7 miles altogether, but is an interior or connecting trail, so you can’t get to it directly. We could have gone either north or south, and chose north to make our loop. The terrain on both Armijo and Faulty was up-and-down, which was unusual and very welcome. Most of the time you figure on going UP. And then coming back DOWN. A portion of Faulty Trail follows an actual fault called Flatirons Fault.

armijo1

I can’t get enough of this place. It’s awe-inspiring, wild, and restorative all at the same time.

armijo2

I think it was on Faulty where a fellow hiker warned us he’d seen a bear off-trail about 200 yards back (in the direction we were headed). Just before Faulty crosses Cienega Trail, there is a short, very steep descent against the north face of Cienega Canyon. The views were spectacular! I failed to capture the grandeur, but I did succeed in making it down, which was sufficient accomplishment.

After the short leg of Cienega Trail, we snacked at an actual picnic table, then crossed the asphalt road to check out Cienega Nature Trail. We were reminded that Cienega means “wet meadow.” The area was very different from the trails we’d been on across the road. Green. And open.

armijo3

Lastly, we hunted for Acequia Trail for a bit before finding and following it in the direction of the parking lot, thus completing the loop. Pine cones abounded. And my friend Lee waited patiently while I took yet another photo.

armijo4

This very pleasant hike was five miles in all. It’s one I would definitely do again.

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating the senses: hearing

tree fallingIf a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it makes a sound? This has been a question debated by philosophers. Define sound…define hear…define tree. (I kid philosophers, but I once listened to a philosopher spend quite a long time trying to define is.) Now that scientists are weighing in on the tree question, the answer appears to be, as with many other questions, yes and no. And I’m OK with that.

Sounds are vibrations that travel through the air as waves. That puts me in mind of this song by Ray LaMontagne.

So let’s celebrate air, too, which not only gives us breath (and life) but also sound.

As I was thinking about identifying some of the sounds I like, I realized it would be easier to rattle off a list of sounds I don’t like than a list of sounds I do like. So the sound of silence definitely ranks near the top for me. (Having no sound coming from my computer processor is especially good.)

I also realized there are several sounds I like, but only in moderation. For example, I like the sound of rain now and then, but living in the Pacific Northwest would make me crazy. I like the sound of birds singing in the morning, but too much of it and it turns into birds making racket in the morning. I like the whisper of wind through the trees, but not the roar of the gale-force winds we get in New Mexico in the spring.

Other good sounds:

  • Laughter, which is a celebration all by itself
  • A fire burning in a fireplace
  • Popcorn popping
  • My cat purring; also the noise she makes at birds in the tree outside our window
  • All kinds of music

Music is definitely my favorite source of sound. I don’t know that I could pick a favorite (or desert-island album), but No Sun in Venice by The Modern Jazz Quartet comes close. Here’s Venice from that album.

I’ve noticed that sounds can wake me from my internal reverie and bring me back into the world faster than anything else. That’s something I appreciate, even if I may not always celebrate it when it happens.

What sounds do you enjoy most?

This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the Celebration category link.

celebrating trees in spring

springtrees6Spring is absolutely my favorite tree time of the year. Trees in spring almost—almost—make winter worthwhile. In winter, the leafless trees seem barren and forbidding. But in spring, the delicate green tracery of budding leaves dresses up the branches, showing off the trees’ underlying architecture to best advantage. (The architecture of trees is amazing!)

springtrees4It doesn’t last long, this lacy phase. And it’s ephemeral. Trees in summer—resplendent in green—and trees in fall—outrageously dressed—are easy to capture in photographs; trees in spring are not. So I celebrate this brief, ephemeral moment of trees in spring that signals winter is really over, life is being renewed, and brighter days are ahead.

springtrees1

What is your favorite “tree time” of year?

Note: This post is part of April’s 30 Days of Celebration. To read more, click on the category link for Celebration.

a new leaf

a new leaf

This plant (a variety of aglaonema) has thrived from the day I brought it home more than two years ago and repotted it into a square red pot.

On Sunday, the late afternoon sunlight streaking its leaves caught my attention. I picked up my camera and walked all the way around it, getting shots from every angle. This leaf was hidden from my view until I nearly came full circle. It’s the last shot.

The older leaves are darker–and dusty–but the new one unfurling is bright and pristine.

rounding up cattle on the Valles Caldera

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Valles Caldera National Preserve is an 89,000-acre working ranch “nestled inside a volcanic caldera.” It’s located about two hours north of Albuquerque, via picturesque Jemez Springs. This past weekend, on our second visit to VCNP, my friend Don and I were surprised to discover a cattle roundup (or gathering) in progress. The cattle that graze on the VCNP belong to the Jemez Pueblo and the University of New Mexico.

The weather that day was sunny, mild, and breezy: perfect for getting up close and personal with some cows, horses, and real cowboys to take a few photos.

horses

Horse (Valles Caldera)

Horses (Valles Caldera)
Horses (Valles Caldera)
Horses (Valles Caldera)
The horses had just come back from working the second day of the gathering, and most of them were hungry.

cowboys

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Cowboys (Valles Caldera)
Cowboys (Valles Caldera)
Cowboys (Valles Caldera)

ranch hand

Ranch hand (Valles Caldera)

cows

Cows (Valles Caldera)

Cows (Valles Caldera)

 

We are lunch inside the car, which was parked next to the cattle pens, so we got an earful of the cows’ complaints about the situation. Can’t say I blame them.

My favorite part of this whole thing was the pure serendipity of it.

We Are

I just want to share these beautiful and heartfelt words with as many people as possible. Thank you, Connie.

Sorting it Out

flowers 2We are flowers, reaching, reaching, napping in the September sun, warming our skin, unwilling to say good-bye. How many more days before it has travelled too far south to impart even an ounce of warmth?

We are the moon, hanging orange and low and pregnant, keeping quiet company in the dark, waiting for birth, for daylight, whispering that you were conceived in love and brightly shining hope.

We are the wind, invisible, lonely, unable to stay in one place, unaware of our power, at times troubling, at others soothing, at others yet fanning the coals of a cooling fire.

We are cloud and rain, watering and cooling, then pooling back into ourselves.

We are bright bursts of electricity and light; we are loud unsettling rumbles of thunder. We are weeping willows and whispering pines; we are raging hurricanes and crushing surf.

We are, you and I in turn, the grandeur…

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color my world: rainbow eucalyptus

Winter doldrums. So many bare-branched trees in my apartment complex, all the same dun shade. If I could transform them, I would take my box of crayons outside and add some color to those branches. Nature beat me to it with a tree I never knew existed until now (not that I ever claimed to know every tree in existence). But, wow, how spectacular are these trees? How would you like to walk outside and see them in your yard…or along the sidewalk…or maybe everywhere?

rainbow eucalyptus

arainbow eucalyptus2

More amazing pictures here. You’ll swear these trees are painted. And check out the video:

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